There is a widespread misunderstanding that stance and gait are automatic processes, i.e. not controlled by the human brain. However, the fact that many patients with brain disorders are no longer able to walk and engage in simple conversation at the same time makes it abundantly clear that our consciousness and our thinking do indeed control such apparently simple actions.
This interaction between human movement and mental and cognitive processes will be the overriding topic at a congress that will be organized by the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in Amsterdam in early February 2008.
Our knowledge of how the human brain controls gait has strongly increased over the past few years, partly thanks to research technology such as MRI, and research on gait and balance motor control and on diseases in which such control is absent, such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia. In early February 2008, the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre will organize a large international congress in the Okura Hotel in Amsterdam, where the most recent insights in this field will be presented from the perspectives of all the medical and other disciplines involved, including neurology, geriatrics, physiotherapy, psychiatry, rehabilitation medicine, physiology, human movement sciences, and medical psychology.
This interaction between gait and the brain appears to be a two-way process. On the one hand, the human brain checks and controls body movements, while, on the other hand, sports and sports-related physical activities can contribute to the recovery of damaged, ill-functioning nerve cells. Beneficial effects may even occur as a result of merely visualizing a particular movement in the mind. This was shown by research involving patients who had suffered a stroke and become paralysed. Imagined movement leads to better recovery. Moreover, there is also a connection between movement and dementia: the severity of dementia correlates with the amount of daily exercise patients take.
At the congress in Amsterdam, internationally prominent scientists in this field will present the first results of significant research. In addition to fundamental neuroscientific research, a number of other subjects will be discussed, such as:
- the usefulness of dancing as a rehabilitating therapy;
- what can be learned from the medical support provided to the star players of Chelsea Football Club;
- the role of Parkinson’s-like changes in the brain in gait disorders and recurrent falls in old age; how fear of falling affects gait;
- the effect of physical exertion, and sports in particular, on the regeneration of nerve cells.
The congress will be a milestone event in the fields of neurosciences, gerontology and geriatrics. On the basis of their own research results, the organizers firmly believe that this expressly interdisciplinary congress could lead to great advancements in both science and treatment. At the festive opening, a specially designed choreography of the international dance company The Movement Network will set the tone for this.
The congress will be sponsored by the Netherlands Society for Gerontology, the Princess Beatrix Fund, the Donders Institute for Neuroscience and the Nijmegen Centre for Evidence Based Practice; both researchinstitutes of the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre.
The congress will be chaired by Dr. Bastiaan Bloem, MD, PhD (neurologist) and Prof. Dr. Marcel Olde Rikkert, MD, PhD (geriatrician), both from the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre.